Sinus infections affect 31 million Americans annually, resulting in spending more than $1 billion each year on over-the-counter medications to treat them. Thankfully, pharmaceuticals are not the only way to manage sinus infection symptoms, and natural solutions exist.
A sinus infection, sometimes called sinusitis, is inflammation of the air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses), which happens when fluid builds up in the sinuses. This fluid buildup allows germs to grow. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some sinus infections. Typically, a deviated septum, weak immune system, colds, seasonal allergies, and nasal polyps can make you more likely to develop sinus infections from bacteria or mold (1).
Symptoms of a sinus infection may include (2):
A runny nose with thick, yellow, or greenish mucus coming from the nose
Postnasal drainage with thick mucus coming down the back of the throat
Blocked or stuffy nose (congestion) causing difficulty breathing through your nose
Pain, tenderness, swelling, and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose, or forehead that worsens when bending over
Aching in your teeth
Altered sense of smell
Through allopathic healthcare, a simple sinusitis infection is typically treated with decongestants, over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, nasal saline irrigation, and drinking fluids (sinusitis is a viral infection, and fluids will help). If symptoms of sinusitis don't improve after ten days, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, oral or topical decongestants, or prescription intranasal steroid sprays (3).
To manage sinus infection symptoms effectively, it’s important to understand exactly what causes them and why, so let’s get to it!
Addressing a Fever
When it comes to a sinus infection, a fever is sometimes present. Suppose you read Earthley's Ultimate Guide to Fevers. In that case, you already know the importance of letting a fever work its course and how fevers reducing on their own is vital to recovery from any illness. So just some quick reminders to naturally support the body during a fever:
Take detox baths
Support the lymphatic system
Aside from fever management, managing a sinus infection naturally is as simple as finding alternatives for each of the allopathic “solutions.” There are natural decongestants, allergy remedies, nasal irrigations, and even antibiotics, so let’s discuss them!
Addressing Congestion & Postnasal Drainage
Congestion occurs when the nasal cavity, adjacent tissues, and blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid, causing a stuffy or plugged feeling, often referred to as a stuffy nose (4). Postnasal drainage occurs when excess mucus builds up and drips down the back of your throat (5). Both of these symptoms can occur when struggling with a sinus infection, but some herbs can help, like elderberry and nettle.
Elderberries may support the immune system. The immune system protects the body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other toxins (6). When you support your immune system, you potentially support your body's ability to fight off sickness such as a sinus infection. One study found that the elderberry polyphenols helped the rat's immune defense by increasing the number of white blood cells (7). Additionally, elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds, and sinusitis (8).
Nettle has anti-inflammatory properties. In one animal study, results suggest that a portion of the anti-inflammatory effect of nettle extract may be attributed to its inhibitory effect on NF-kappaB activation (part of the immune system responsible for inflammation development) (9). Nettle also reduced levels of numerous inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production in vitro (10).
Addressing Ear Pressure & Headache
When I have a sinus infection, ear pressure and headache are inevitable and are the worst part. The best way to approach these symptoms is to tackle the inflammation. Inflammation is the body's way of healing and fighting off infections, but chronic inflammation can also cause serious problems (11). Aside from the elderberry and nettle, which I’ve already discussed, three fantastic herbs are peppermint, turmeric, and ginger.
Peppermint has anti-inflammatory properties (12) and helps relieve headaches and migraines thanks to its cooling sensation (13). Peppermint's ability to relieve certain headaches is likely due to the menthol in peppermint oil. Menthol increases the blood's flow and provides a cooling sensation that assists in easing pain (14). In one clinical study of 35 people with migraines, when participants applied peppermint oil to the forehead and temples, the pain was reduced significantly after two hours compared to a placebo oil (15). In another study of 41 people, when participants applied peppermint oil topically to the forehead, they found it to be as effective for headaches as 1,000 mg of liver and kidney-damaging acetaminophen (16).
Turmeric has compounds called curcuminoids; curcumin is turmeric’s main ingredient and has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect (17). Curcuminoids are known for their medicinal properties, which have been used in India for thousands of years (18). Studies have shown that curcumin matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs without the dangerous side effects (19).
Ginger has an active constituent called gingerol, which is most studied in ginger (20). Gingerol has many known medicinal properties and a long history in traditional and alternative medicine. Most importantly, gingerol has robust anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have found ginger inhibits protein kinase B (Akt) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation, thus causing an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines and a decrease in proinflammatory cytokines (21).
Of course, Eathley offers some amazing products to help with these discomforts, such as Earache Ease, Pain Potion, and Anti-Inflammatory. I also find that using a neti pot and essential oils for congestion (not in the neti pot) helps tremendously with these symptoms.
Addressing Aching Teeth
I have had many sinus infections over the years, but I have never experienced aching teeth as a symptom. Nonetheless, if this is a symptom you’re experiencing, two amazing herbs for tooth pain are clove and catnip.
Clove is very beneficial for oral health thanks to its antibacterial properties. One test-tube study showed that clove essential oil killed three common types of bacteria: Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (22). In another test-tube study, they found cloves to stop the growth of two types of bacteria that contribute to gum disease (23). Remember, clove is not the same as clove essential oil. Aside from having similar benefits, the way these two products are used couldn’t be more different!
Catnip has a sedative-like effect due to its nepetalactone contents, similar to valepotriates found in valerian, another commonly-used herbal sedative (24). Catnip also has anti-inflammatory benefits that help ease pain and inflammation internally and externally. Catnip has traditionally been used for relieving arthritis, gout, headaches, and aching muscles and can also be used to ease menstrual cramps and gastrointestinal pain (25).
I highly recommend Earthley’s Teeth Tamer for any oral pain.
Addressing a Cough
Mainstream cough medicines like Dextromethorphan (DXM) have many side effects. We commonly hear about drowsiness, but it can also cause seizures. Not to mention regular abuse of DXM at high doses can lead to chemical psychosis (26). Alternative options include herbs like fenugreek and dandelion.
Fenugreek helps maintain mucus conditions in the body (mainly in the lungs) by helping to clear congestion and acts as a throat cleanser and mucus solvent easing the urge to cough (27). These benefits are why fenugreek is commonly used to aid asthma symptoms (28). Fenugreek also helps relieve pain and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (29,30), which can significantly impact recovery from pneumonia.
Dandelions aren’t just a weed in your backyard. In traditional herbal medicine, dandelions are widely acknowledged for their vast medicinal properties, like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (31,32). In animal studies, dandelion extract relaxes airway muscles, inhibits bronchial muscle contractions, and relieves the respiratory resistance of healthy and asthmatic mice (33).
Why not opt for something less dangerous than DXM, like Earthley’s Cough-B-Gone, which has all three of these herbs? Cough-B-Gone is an herbal tincture created to help relieve colds, coughs, and congestion. This tincture combines herbs like mullein leaf, fenugreek seed, and dandelion root to nourish your body and support the respiratory system.
Addressing the Infection
Addressing the infection is tricky because many believe you need antibiotics for all infections. Believe it or not, doctors prescribe about 47 million antibiotic courses annually for infections that don’t need antibiotics (34). If you read The Truth About Antibiotics, you already know antibiotics can cause many health complications and often don’t even work. So what can you use instead? For most sinus infections, antibiotics are not required, but I like to use oil of oregano or fermented garlic honey, just in case.
Oil of Oregano has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, amongst many other beneficial properties (35,36,37). Oil of Oregano is made by infusing extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano leaves, creating a robust and ingestible “natural antibiotic” widely used in the natural community.
Fermented Garlic Honey has immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, relieving upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (38,39,40,41). Fermented Honey Garlic Honey is made by fermenting garlic cloves in honey, creating a “natural antibiotic” commonly used in the natural community.
⚠️ Warning: The Holistic Hipppie is not a functional medicine practitioner. The FDA has not evaluated these statements. This content is not medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or replace medical guidance. The Holistic Hipppie assumes no liability for the application of the information discussed.